The Journey Is More Important Than the Destination
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The Tempest, written between 1610 and 1611, has a powerful political context as it was in the early years of the 17th century that the British colonization of the Americas began. The British had been exploring and colonizing foreign lands since the late 1400s, but the discovery of the Americas led to huge new frontiers, massive opportunities for trade, and ultimately to the transatlantic slave trade. England was not a rich country in the 17th century and it needed the trade market that the colonization of these countries could provide to survive as an Empire. These actions led to what is now perceived as serve exploitation and intense moral failings.
Colonialism in Shakespeare’s time was a political movement that ignited many diverse opinions and moral debates for and against. Whether Shakespeare’s The Tempest is condemning, applauding or ambivalent towards the issue can be argued, but it is clearly a central theme to the play and one that reflects many of the severe racial and classist prejudices that existed in 17th century England. Prospero’s treatment of Caliban reflects many of these political ideals and attitudes. Through studying Caliban’s treatment and the intense resentment he feels towards the oppressive structures set upon him we can observe that Prospero’s controlling rule over his land did not benefit him, enrich his life, or help him grow. We see instead that it imprisoned him and caused him intense distress and would lead him on a journey of revenge and survival.
At the beginning of Caliban’s journey Prospero treats him as socially, genetically and fundamentally inferior, he sees him as a being inherently incapable of ‘civilized behavior’ and therefore unworthy of respect, care, dignity or free will. He does not regard him as an equal or even as a human; he calls him, “A devil, a born devil on whose nature, nurture could never stick.” (4,1,188-89). The sharp alliteration and harsh tone of this description help demonstrate to the audience the inhuman nature of Prospero’s conduct towards Caliban. Caliban is portrayed to the audience to be a foul beast, an unruly and wild being who has no sense of himself and may lash out at any moment; yet it is Prospero who taunts him, makes him into an unwilling ‘servant’, threatens him and tortures him with physical pain.
Caliban is not a passive subject however, and throughout Act 1, Scene 2, the first time we see Prospero and Caliban together, Caliban’s speech is full of plosive consonants delivered with high modality. Caliban wails, argues, sneers, curses and defies, he makes it very clear that he does not wish to be anywhere near this man and is therefore much less of a ‘servant’ and much more of a slave. The difference between how Caliban is described and then how he speaks creates juxtaposition. Prospero’s crude descriptions of him, descriptions that only tell of an ignorant and inhuman beast are shown to be incorrect; Caliban is instead sharp, witty and resentful. Upon accepting that Prospero is an abusive and controlling master and Caliban his unwilling slave, it is easier to understand Caliban’s actions throughout the rest of the play; why he chooses to do certain things and how the sickening treatment he receives from Prospero determines the path of Caliban’s inner and physical journeys throughout the play.
Similarly to this, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, demonstrates an abusive and controlling rule of one human over another and how this abuse causes the victim to create an inner journey for themselves. The character Mr.____ holds total control over his wife Celie, an uneducated woman with low self-esteem living in the intense racial climate of the American Deep South in the 1930s. Like The Tempest the controlling figure, Mr.____, enslaves the other because they believe them to be fundamentally inferior. In contrast to The Tempest however, Celie holds the responders empathy.
This is so because she narrates the story, the reader sees the story of her journey the entire time and can easily recognize that Mr.____’s treatment of her is awful, unlike in the Tempest where the abuse and control is just a theme of the play and a part of the story. Rather than being portrayed as a monster that vehemently defies the master, Celie is shown to be a person. One who is passive and afraid, she says, “I don’t know how to fight. All I know how to do is stay alive”, and her submission is shown through this emotive language. Celie’s journey and Caliban’s journey are far different but both characters struggle to break free of the oppression holding them down and have inner journeys that hold more importance than their physical ones.
Prospero sees Caliban’s outrages and aggressive arguments as weak treacherous evils against his rule, an extreme authoritative behavior that is seen also in the treatment of his other ‘servant’ Ariel. “If thou murmur’st, I will rend an oak and peg thee in his knotty entrails till thou hast howled away twelve winters,” (1,2,294-96) is the threat Ariel receives when he asks for freedom. Prospero speaks to his ‘servants’ harshly, his tone expresses condescending cadence and exclamation. Many parallels to Caliban’s journey can be found within the article ‘The Treaty in Practice’ on the New Zealand History online website that deals with the Treaty of Waitangi. The article discusses and gives information on the unjust policies, mistreatments, and manipulations that have occurred because of the New Zealand Government and the British Empires failure to respect and uphold the terms of the Treaty.
Caliban didn’t have a treaty but instead a friendship that was used against him to create a position of control. These initial connections, the treaty and the friendship have both, over time, been wrangled, misused and unfairly manipulated by the more controlling power, the British government and Prospero to create a better and more exploitive status for themselves. The article The “Treaty in Practice” relays how the inappropriate use of the Treaty and policies relating to it have resulted in land loss for the Maori people, a lack of respect for the Maori people and a significant decline in the evolution of self-determination of the Indigenous people of New Zealand. These injustices can be associated to Caliban’s journey with Prospero. Prospero has taken control of his land, failed to treat him with respect, and has put serious effort into controlling and taking advantage of Caliban.
The character Stephano creates a radical distraction for Caliban and becomes a murderous symbol of hope for him. This is comparable to The Colour Purple, where Celie finds her own radical distraction from her pain and hope for greater things when she has a love affair with the character Shug. These ‘distractions’ are shown to the audience through the rising action of each narrative, the emotive language used by Caliban and Celie in these situations and the increasing more intense exclamations and tones. Caliban and Stephano’s meeting is the turning point of Caliban’s inner journey; it is when he sees an escape from Prospero’s treacherous rule and visualizes a new reality under this strange God with liquor in hand.
Caliban says aside to the audience “That’s a brave god, with celestial liquor. I will kneel to him,” (2,2,105-6). Caliban sees Stephano as a God because he is a symbol of hope and power for him. An analogous connection is made for the audience here, for the difference between Caliban and Prospero’s relationship and Caliban and Stephano’s relationship is none too different. Caliban is still the lower power and still under another’s control. Caliban wishes to serve Stephano, but only to escape Prospero’s rule. Their journeys move forward together because Stephano treats Caliban much less like a monster and much more like a man. Stephano and Trinculo, the other character in this sub-plot, come from low ranks in their society and this is shown through the more tolerant behaviors they project onto Caliban, compared to Prospero, and the more informal language that they speak with.
They treat Caliban as a strange and interesting thing, not a vile creature, he amuses them and they treat him humanely. These equalizing actions that contrast Prospero’s behavior gain Caliban’s trust, and the plan to kill Prospero is hatched from Stephano’s drunken greed and Caliban’s desperate wish for the removal of Prospero’s torture upon him. So fierce is Caliban’s joy in their treacherous plan that he sings a little song full of satire at the end of Act 2, Scene 2. Later, when the threesome are seen again n Act 3, Scene 2 Caliban’s true nature is revealed. Under the influence of liquor and the presence of those he does not fear punishment from, his tongue is loosened and he begins to speak in beautiful dramatic monologue to Stephano and Trinculo while describing nature of his homeland.
“Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices, that if I then had waked after long sleep, will make me sleep again.” (3,2,132-35) The imagery he creates with this dialogue allows the viewer to see an almost delicate, tender and compassionate side of Caliban; it expands the audiences understanding of the ideology of his character. His connection to the land becomes truly evident, and while Stephano and Trinculo only laugh and encourage him with humorous drunken banter full of metaphors about the kingdom they are planning, the deeper significance of his enslavement and it’s affects upon him become clearer to the audience. He becomes a sympathetic character, even if only for this one scene. The path of Caliban’s journey is moving forward, with the psychological motivations of his inner journey showing the audience he intends Stephano to replace Prospero as his master and to do so by murdering Prospero.
The end of Caliban’s journey comes swiftly and is fraught with disappointment. Caliban sees in these new masters their weakness, greed and superficial tendencies once Ariel and Prospero’s magic outwits them. His insistence that they must kill Prospero is all but ignored when they allow themselves to be caught and fooled. “O ho, monster! We know what belongs to a frippery. O King Stephano!” (4,1,223-4), the fast paced and excited tone of this dialogue expresses their childishness and stupidity. Caliban’s ignorance for the wicked ways of the white mans world allowed him to be at first enthralled by Stephano and Trinculo, but as a survivor Caliban has such vigorous thought and purpose channeling through his inner journey that permit him to soon see these drunken men for what they really are.
Caliban sees the stupidity of their actions and scorns at their childish greedy interest in the gaudy clothes set up there for the exact purpose to hoodwink them. How this scene was written intentionally sets Caliban up to be the noble and intelligent character, he gathers sympathy because he shows the most intelligence. The article “The Treaty in Practice” shows again similarities to Caliban’s journey here as this short-lived journey with Stephano and Trinculo has been an attempt by Caliban to liberate himself from the unjust circumstances he is living through. The article “The Treaty in Practice” discusses many movements by the Maori people for their own liberation, self-determination and of continual protests against violations of the Treaty of Waitangi.
At the end of his journey, Caliban is fascinated and enthralled by the kings and the courtiers who are in company with Prospero and the unknown once again spellbinds him, as Stephano and Trinculo did. It does him no good however, as Prospero is there talking of what wretched a creature he will always be, “This demi-devil – for he’s a bastard one – had plotted with them to take my life,” (5,1,272-4) objectifying him and leading the other characters to believe he is nothing but something they could make profit of if they took him back to Naples. Like Prospero’s quick use of sophisticated and accusatory comments towards Caliban’s behavior, “Treaty in Practice” outlines how too many government policies over the last two hundred years have attempted to manipulate, hide and downplay the rights and problems of Maori people.
These are two different journeys, one fiction and one a realistic struggle both show a journey of survival and an attempt to set themselves free from the rule of another entity. Even in the end of his journey Caliban is treated without respect or care and left to beg forgiveness from an malevolent master who has no mercy for him at all. Caliban’s journey ends with being humiliated and rejected and then sent away; not be thought of by the audience again.
It is clear by this point in the text that Caliban’s journey is more important than his destination, both because his destination is not even succinctly explained and the turmoil and anxiety he has had to endure during both is inner, physical and even short imaginative journeys has been extreme. His inner journey because he has been plagued by severe mistreatment of someone holding control over him and the desperate attempt to liberate himself from that control; his physical journey because he has trekked to and fro across the island drunk and with two stumbling halfwits by his side and his imaginative journeys because just for a moment he saw an escape from Prospero’s rule and imagined a different life under Stephano. The other characters, when they are all assembled and together at the very end of the text care so little of what comes next in his story line that it is not even concluded.
His journey ends by being brashly reprimanded by Prospero and then sent away, not to be seen again. This ending for Caliban is ambiguous and one can only speculate what became of Caliban and how he recovered from the extremities of life under Prospero. His journey therefore holds much more significance because it delivers concrete evidence to Caliban’s purpose, intention, mistreatment and disappointments, whereas his destination is aloof and inadequate as in it does not provide the audience with much and does not give any kind of relief, conclusion or closure to the story of Caliban. Caliban’s journey through The Tempest, “The Treaty in Practice” and Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple all illustrate how the journey is more important than the destination. This is because while all three have different endings, Caliban’s ambiguous, the Maori peoples unresolved and Celie’s joyful, they show the important and intense journey through oppression, towards liberation.
Caliban’s journey was more important than his destination because it dealt with the problems and cruelties of his life. His destination was not as significant because it did not give Caliban or the audience any resolve, relief or closure. Caliban’s inner, physical and imaginative journeys were a manifestation of the need he felt to escape the abusive colonial held over him by Prospero that oppressed and enslaved him. Caliban’s inner journey is most important because it is what drove the purpose of his physical journey and inspired his imaginative journeys. His inner journey is what allowed him to become a more complex and sympathetic character, rather than the deformed and despicable monster that the main character, Prospero, would have the audience believe.